Central Mississippi high school baseball fans get an early season treat when Madison Central and Northwest Rankin meet Friday at 7 p.m. at Northwest Rankin in a rematch of last year’s MHSAA Class 6A championship series (livestreamed on nwrcougars.com).
Madison Central defeated Northwest Rankin 3-2 and 11-1 to sweep best-of-three series for the 6A state title last season.
Madison Central, which finished with a 34-2 record and a No. 1 final national ranking last season, returns four starters – catcher Ross Highfill, outfielder-pitcher Jake Cook, shortstop Gatlin Sanders and pitcher Beau Bryans. Highfill signed with defending national champion Mississippi State, Cook with Southern Miss, and Bryans with Auburn. Sanders is committed to Louisiana-Lafayette. The Jaguars have three more players who are signed or committed – pitcher Austin Tommasini committed to MSU, third baseman Matt Reed signed with Copiah-Lincoln Community College and second baseman John Nolan Pajak signed with Holmes CC. Highfill, Cook and Sanders are members of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 team this season.
Madison Central is ranked No. 24 nationally by Perfect Game in its preseason poll.
Madison Central coach Patrick Robey was named the National High School Baseball Coach of the Year by the National High School Baseball Association last season. Madison Central was led last season by Perfect Game Rawlings Sports National High School Two-Way Player of the Year, Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year and Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Player of the Year Braden Montgomery, a pitcher-outfielder who signed with Stanford.
Northwest Rankin finished 27-9 and reached the state championship series for the first time since winning the state title in 2005. KK Aldridge was named the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Coach of the Year after leading the Cougars in his first year as head coach. He replaced Jeff McClaskey, who retired after 801 victories in 31 seasons.
Northwest Rankin lost only two starters from last year, infielder Luke Lycette and outfielder-pitcher Blake Summerlin, who both signed with Jones CC.
Pitcher-shortstop Nick Monistere, catcher Brady Thomas, third baseman Brice Ainsworth, second baseman-pitcher Evan Rogers, outfielder-pitcher Ryan Herbison, outfielder-first baseman Christian Cameron, first baseman-pitcher Powell Ingram are returning starters and outfielder Sam Whatley and outfielder-pitcher Mason McCaleb were parttime starters from last season.
Monistere was named to the Preseason Elite 11 Team this year.
Northwest Rankin has nine players who have signed – Monistere (Southern Miss), Thomas (Meridian CC), Ainsworth (Hinds CC), Rogers (Jones CC), Herbison (Hinds CC), Cameron (Copiah-Lincoln CC), McCaleb (Hinds CC), pitcher Connor Brooks (Jones CC) and outfielder Layne Cross (Belhaven). Junior pitcher and Hartfield Academy transfer Dawson Muenzenmay has committed to Hinds CC.
Madison Central and Northwest Rankin opened the season with victories Tuesday.
Madison Central defeated North Pike 18-2 in five innings. Cook, Bryans, Reed and Reed McCrillis had two hits for the Jaguars. McCrillis had a home run and double. Reed had four runs batted in. Cook and Sanders scored three runs each. Tommasini was the winning pitcher and had four strikeouts in two innings.
“We expect to put Tuesday’s game behind us rather quickly because we have a steep challenge waiting on us this week with Northwest Rankin Friday, Warren Central and Newton County Saturday, then South Jones Monday,” Robey said. “We will be tested physically and mentally. Our pitching staff will be stretched really thin with this many games in a short time span.”
Northwest Rankin defeated Hattiesburg 13-2. Ainsworth, Rogers, Thomas, and junior designated hitter Cruse Loyd had multiple hits.
“We look forward to having the No. 1 team in the state coming to our place early in the season,” Aldridge said. “We know we will see some power arms and a solid 1-9 lineup that will give us a good measuring stick of where we are right now.
“This is a great opportunity for our guys and their guys to face some quality competition and showcase some quality baseball in Central Mississippi. I hope the fans come out and support both teams. I know it’s going to be cold, but we will have plenty of hot chocolate and coffee in the concession stand.”